Challenges await Northeast in Week 2
(STATS) – Several Northeast Conference teams had reason to smile after season-opening wins, a few more were left looking for answers following losses and one should be more than happy about its performance despite a defeat.
Those victories could be harder to come by in Week 2.
Bryant, Wagner and Sacred Heart were the conference's opening week winners, but Bryant's victory came against Merrimack, a member of the Northeast-10 Conference affiliated with Division II. Any positive outcome for Wagner is big considering it opened 0-9 last season en route to a 1-10 finish, but the Seahawks' 38-16 home win came against Saint Anselm, also a member of the Northeast-10.
“Great to get a win,” Wagner coach Jason Houghtaling said. “I think we played extremely hard, which was great to see.”
There was nothing cheap about Sacred Heart's 18-14 road win against Stetson as the Pioneers scored 12 unanswered points and limited the Hatters to 35 total yards in the second half. The Pioneers received outstanding work from tailback Ose Imeokparia and linebacker Kevin Barry. Imeokparia carried 13 times for 112 yards and produced the deciding touchdown on an 80-yard run, while Barry made a triumphant return to the field with a career-high 13 tackles after losing the final eight games last season due to injury.
Sacred Heart opposes Valparaiso on Saturday in its home opener for the second of three consecutive contests against Pioneer League teams. Valparaiso has dropped 10 of its last 11 games, including a 56-3 loss to the Pioneers last season.
Central Connecticut State was extremely sloppy in its 24-10 loss to Lafayette, turning the ball over on its first four possessions. The Blue Devils, though, did rally from a 10-0 deficit and were tied heading into the fourth quarter only to have the Leopards score 14 unanswered points.
No Northeast team has a bigger challenge this week than CCSU, which has to travel to face James Madison – ranked 12th in the STATS FCS Top 25 – with the Dukes coming off an 80-7 annihilation of Morehead State last weekend. James Madison set several offensive records in the rout, piling up a school-record (for Division I) 607 yards of total offense, 498 on the ground, with a program-record 10 rushing TDs.
The Blue Devils' run defense was excellent in the opener, allowing just 22 yards on 34 attempts but the Dukes' attack is far more formidable and varied.
Also facing difficult assignments this weekend are Robert Morris and Bryant. Robert Morris would seem to be staring at a third consecutive 0-2 start with a visit to Dayton up next. The Flyers, who are 16-2 in the all-time series, won their 2016 opener after going 10-2 last season and will be facing a Colonials team that finished with 149 total yards in a 14-7 loss to Division II Alderson-Broaddus last Saturday.
“We lost the game because we didn't execute,” said Robert Morris coach John Banaszak.
Bryant will visit perennial power Montana State for the program's first-ever game against a Big Sky opponent and first-ever trip west of Pittsburgh. This will also be only the second time the Bulldogs have flown to a game.
Defending conference champion Duquesne allowed Youngstown State to score on four of its first five possessions and was outgained 610-222 in a 45-10 loss. The Dukes try to regroup Saturday at home against Bucknell seeking their fourth win in the past five meetings.
There's little doubt that the Northeast's most impressive season-opening effort came courtesy of Saint Francis in a 41-31 loss at then-No. 14 Montana. The Red Flash, playing in front of the largest crowd in its FCS program history, held a 17-13 lead in the third quarter before the powerful Grizzlies reeled off the next 21 points.
Montana coach Bob Stitt had high praise for Saint Francis.
“They're going to win a lot of games,'' Stitt said. ''They gave us everything we wanted. It was a struggle.”
To the surprise of nobody, Lorenzo Jerome shined again for the Red Flash. The senior defensive back totaled 196 yards on four kick returns, including a 73-yard touchdown, while also adding two interceptions. Jerome was named STATS FCS National Special Teams Player of the Week for his efforts.
Saint Francis plays the second of four straight road games to open the season Saturday with a matchup against a Towson team that has won all four previous meetings, including a 35-20 victory last Sept. 12.